If retailers think the Internet permanently changed the way people research and ultimately shop, they haven't seen anything yet. If merchants want to get scared in a hurry, they should try downloading either the eBay app or the new Amazon Price Check mobile app (both for iPhone). Each app lets you scan a UPC code on any package and not only call up product information, but even see better offers. The Amazon app lets you buy from a range of sources on the spot using your Amazon account.
This is scary because American's retail shopping habits have changed and are changing even more radically in the next few years. A new study from Leo Burnett and Arc Worldwide demonstrates that the recession helped alter the mindset of consumers. They come to retail now fully armed with information. Retail will continue to have a role in the final purchase decisions, especially involving brands the consumer doesn't already know. Many shoppers now come into the store having already decided what they want and treat retail as a "final check" or simply a "pick-up station," the report says. They are ginned up on research and pity the sales assistant who doesn't know when to get out of the shopper's way.
Mobile takes that dynamic and accelerates it. In just about any aisle in a major retailer you will see people peering into their phones at something, and according to new research on mobile's influence on shopping behavior these folks aren't checking email. The Yahoo Mobile Framework Study performed with Nielsen shows that 9 out of 10 mobile users access the mobile Web in a store. And about half of all mobile Web activity in a store is related to shopping. In fact, mobile users are demonstrating behaviors that are already far ahead of the mobile ecosystem. Almost half of all of those using mobile phones in-store have sent phone camera images of a product to someone.
Only 16% of consumers use their phones for shopping research, but 57% of mobile internet users express interest in doing so in the coming year. And when it comes to having tried or being interested in different types of shopping-related activities, the mobile platform is almost on par with the PC. While 96% of PC users cited visiting a Web site, 91% of mobile users did as well. Down the line, from search to accessing user reviews, the number of people either actively performing an activity on mobile phones or interested in doing so is tracking only slightly below the Web. The upshot of this is that people seem ready to transfer a number of common online research behaviors to their phones.
While retailers need to be aware of the ways in which mobile is poised to reshape consumer behaviors, the Leo Burnett/Arc Worldwide study offers a cautionary note. According to its survey of consumers, "Technologies appear often to be putting more distance between the shopper and the retailer by encouraging shoppers to work completely independently of retailers." While retail needs to get out in front of the mobile behaviors their shoppers already demonstrate, the long-term risk is that the technologies will undermine the need for the store even further. Understanding that shopping is an experience and that in-store mobile apps can enhance that shopping "journey" will be critical in bringing technology into the store in a creative rather than a destructive way.
For a company like Amazon, however, just imagine the behavioral data it can now collect on consumers who are bringing their apps into the field and other stores. From geolocation to retail vs online shopping habits, this kind of mobile extension adds layers of invaluable data to a users' profile and Amazon's understanding of how they fit within the shopping journey. The line between brick and mortar and online retail is about to get muddier.